Climate Change

Hercules in New York

Gov. Spitzer vows to implement Schwarzenegger's quixotic fuel-economy standards

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New Yorkers should rejoice that the Environmental Protection Agency last week slapped down California's request to write its own fuel-economy rules to combat global warming. Gov. Spitzer had vowed to follow the lead of California's Arnold Schwarzenegger—so if the "Governator" had prevailed, New Yorkers would have seen their wallets and their cars shrinking.

New York (with more than a dozen other states) has historically adopted California's standards for tail-pipe emissions—requirements notably tougher than federal standards. Since 1970, the Golden State has regularly won the right to set tougher-than-the-feds clean-air rules because it needed more drastic standards to address its acute smog problem. The feds have granted other states with similar air-pollution issues the option of choosing California's rules.

But following California on fighting smog is far different from copying it on combating global warming, as Spitzer has declared he'd do.

Smog has local causes—and local health effects. It produces higher rates of asthma, emphysema and other respiratory ailments; these can be addressed by reducing local emissions of smog-causing gases, such as ozone and sulfur dioxide.

But global climate change is, obviously, a global issue—its causes and effects simply aren't localized in the same way. Its impact on particular communities is a vast unknown—and there are no local remedies for it.

California's proposed fuel-economy standards became especially redundant after President Bush signed the new energy bill into law last week. This will require automakers to raise their fuel-economy standards by 40 percent—to an industry-wide average of 35 miles per gallon—sby 2020.

Schwarzenegger doesn't agree; he's threatening to sue the EPA to overturn its decision. His rules would force automakers to bump up their fuel efficiency 23 percent by 2012 and 30 percent by 2016—the equivalent of 33.8 mpg.

This is an impossible task. The federal standards will be tough enough for automakers to deliver without compromising on space, safety, power and (above all) low prices—all things that consumers value more than gas mileage. There is simply no technology now available that can combine everything that consumers want with the stipulated gas mileage. If there was, automakers wouldn't need a mandate—they'd run, not walk, to put it on the market.

But why are California's goals so much tougher, even though the federal rules allow just four more years to another 1.2 mpg? Because cars have a long production cycle—models now in the planning stage won't be available until 2014.

So there's simply no time to come up with new designs that will do the job. That means the only way automakers could comply with California's deadline is by withholding from consumers the higher-emission vehicles they want in states that insist on it.

In other words, they'd have to pull the vast majority of their vehicles from those markets, not only SUVs and light trucks, but even most sedans.

Consider Toyota, the darling of the greens: It now makes maybe two vehicles—manual-transmission Yaris and hybrid Prius—that meet California's standards. Toyota's Camry, the top-selling car in America, gets only 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

Indeed, the net effect of the California standard would be to impose either small compacts or hybrids on all new-car buyers—even though hybrids costs $3,000 to $5,000 more than their non-hybridized versions and have a much shorter lifespan.

The few New Yorkers who prefer expensive, hybrid vehicles—or tiny subcompacts—wouldn't feel the pinch of the California rules. But hybrids make up only about 1 percent of New York's (and the nation's) auto purchases. By contrast, about half of New York motorists drive light trucks such as SUVs, minivans and pick-ups—compared with 53 percent nationally. And if you exclude Manhattan, New York's share of light trucks is actually higher than the national figure. (In parts of Upstate, it's close to 60 percent.)

It's not hard to understand why so many New Yorkers pick these gas-guzzlers over sedans with better gas mileage. Suburban families with kids love SUVs for their spaciousness and superior safety record. (Several national studies have confirmed that SUVs are responsible for 2,200 to 3,900 fewer auto deaths every year.) And certain types of light trucks are particularly suitable for winter driving in Upstate's hills.

Perhaps more important is the simple fact that cramming New Yorkers into smaller, more expensive and less safe cars wouldn't do anything about global climate change.

Many climate scientists agree: Even if the whole world adopted a 45 mpg fuel-economy standard, global temperature would drop by only five-hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit by 2100.

And James Hansen—a Columbia University climatologist and a global warming worrywart—has admitted under oath that subjecting the whole country to the Schwarzenegger standard wouldn't bring any measurable cut in global temperature.

Schwarzenegger seems determined to cast himself as Don Quixote in the unfolding drama of global warming. Spitzer would be foolish to play Sancho Panzo in that futile battle.

Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the New York Post.

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  1. oh Elliot Spitzer! WHY! WHY must you do this to us?!

  2. The few New Yorkers who prefer expensive, hybrid vehicles-or tiny subcompacts-wouldn’t feel the pinch of the California rules. But hybrids make up only about 1 percent of New York’s (and the nation’s) auto purchases. By contrast, about half of New York motorists drive light trucks such as SUVs, minivans and pick-ups-compared with 53 percent nationally. And if you exclude Manhattan, New York’s share of light trucks is actually higher than the national figure. (In parts of Upstate, it’s close to 60 percent.)

    Well then, I suggest mailing New York legislators your article on how a Hummer is more environmentally sound than a Hybrid. I am sure it will change their mind about implementing this and instead put them on the path to banning hybrids.

  3. I wonder how many MPGs his steamroller gets…

  4. Indeed, the net effect of the California standard would be to impose either small compacts or hybrids on all new-car buyers-even though hybrids costs $3,000 to $5,000 more than their non-hybridized versions and have a much shorter lifespan.

    Anybody seen the plan to deal with the battery toxic waste? Just curious.

  5. Anybody seen the plan to deal with the battery toxic waste? Just curious.

    Bury it out of state?

  6. I only ask these things because I’m a rational environmentalist. It’s alonely position with deniers on the right and dreamers on the left.

  7. Anybody seen the plan to deal with the battery toxic waste? Just curious.

    Best Buy and Radio Shack take used batteries. No charge!

  8. Well then, I suggest mailing New York legislators your article on how a Hummer is more environmentally sound than a Hybrid. I am sure it will change their mind about implementing this and instead put them on the path to banning hybrids.

    Oh, I’d forgotten about that. He might want to add a disclaimer — god was that ever a shitty study, and the claims were ridiculous enough to warrant SOME skepticism. (Are the batteries so horrible that it offsets the vastly greater mass AND horrendously worst gas milage of a hummer?. Unsuprisingly, only if you fudge the numbers so bad Arther Anderson accountants get queasy).

  9. Anybody seen the plan to deal with the battery toxic waste? Just curious.

    IIRC, any shop willing to do the battery change for a hybrid generally sends them to be recycled.

    Haven’t known anyone that both had a hybrid AND needed a battery replacement, so don’t know for sure.

  10. I know how you feel J Sub D.
    While I too am a rational environmentalist, I feel mostly isolated for my (mostly)vegetarianism.
    I don’t agree politically with the other veges (and, HOLY SHIT!, I’m not a 100% vegetarian!), and meat eaters generally assume at first meeting that I am just like the loud vegetarians, or PETA, or whatever.
    It’s lonely being a libertarian vegetarian.

  11. I don’t find anything weird about people being Vegetarians. There are cultures (India) that have done it for thousands of years. Vegans, on the other hand…

  12. Kwix,

    Crap! I wanted to post that.

    As a former car wash manager, I can attest to the ridiculous proportion of SUVs and light trucks in upstate NY, which are actually quite the pain in the pyga to get clean in an automatic car wash.

  13. It’s lonely being a libertarian vegetarian.

    I tried vegetarianism for 63 days. My ex-wife is a vegetarian, and I met her shortly after college. Being a wuss at that time (it would be another two years before I developed a taste for beer), I let her influence me into doing the vegetarian thing shortly after we started to date.

    It lasted, as I said, 63 days and was permanently disrupted by a hurricane.
    The power was out for a few days, and
    someone left a ham sandwich in a plastic wrapper in my fridge and it was the last scrap of food that didn’t need preperation. I decided, what the hell, there are extraneous circumstances beyond my control involved and I would just be letting the poor piggy go to waste, so, I took a bite.

    It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and as I wiped the tears from my eye, I said to myself, “as God is my witness, I will never go without meat again.’

    True story, I hope it inspires.

  14. Too bad Gov S isn’t quite stupid enough to impose the fuel standards immediately, instead of just after he leaves office. We could get the revolution over with.

  15. hybrids costs $3,000 to $5,000 more than their non-hybridized versions and have a much shorter lifespan.

    How do we know about lifespans when hybrids have only been on the road in significant numbers for a few years? I haven’t seen abandoned, broken down Priuses littering the highways yet.

    Several national studies have confirmed that SUVs are responsible for 2,200 to 3,900 fewer auto deaths every year.

    I’d love to see how these several studies got those numbers.

    Sorry, Ms Dalmia, but you’ll understand why I’m skeptical of you bashing hybrids in favor of SUVs, given your history.

  16. And here is the comment thread that followed Dalmia’s laughable Hummer vs. hybrid article.

  17. Hummers aren’t as bad as it gets as far as fuel economy (14 city, 18 hwy). In fact, they don’t make the top (bottom) ten list:

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bestworst.shtml

    The above list doesn’t even come close to the good gas mileage a Hummer gets. Hummers also get 6 out of 10 rating for the air pollution score (higher is better).

    2007 model SUV’s worse than Hummers (all):
    Toyota Sequoia 2WD 4.7L
    Cadillac SRS 2WD 4.6L
    Ford Explorer 2WD 4.6L
    Saab 9-7x AWD 5.3L
    Volvo XC AWD 4.4L
    Dodge Durango 2WD 5.7L
    Porsche Cayenne S 4.8L
    Mercedes-Benz ML500 4matic
    Land Roveer Rover sport 4.4L
    Audi Q7 4.2L
    Volkswagen Touareq 4.2L
    Lexus LX 470 4.7L (12/15 mpg)
    toyota land Cruiser Wagon 4WD 4.7L (12/15 mpg)
    Mercedes-Benz ML3 AMG and R63 AMG 6.2L (11-12/15mpg)
    Jeep Grand Cherokedd 4WD 6.1L (11/14 mpg)
    Mercedes-Benz G55 aMG 5.4L (11/13 mpg)

    Hummers also beat out about 2/3 of vans and are only 2-3 mpg worse on gas mileage in the city than the average minivan.

    So, if the Hummer-hatin self-proclaimed saviours of the planet could STFU, it would be much appreciated.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t own a Hummer. The fact that I cannot afford one at this time does not make me resentful of those who can)

  18. Opps, when I typed, “2007 model SUV’s worse than Hummers (all)”, the “all” meant these are all 2007 models, not that these are the only ones worse than the Hummer. The ones I list are about 1/3 of the models that are worse than the Hummer.

  19. Arnie is the worst, hands down, governor The Golden Fleece State has ever had. I’d take Moonbeam or Gumbi back any day. Hence, anything he has to say is crap IMO.

    The idiot spends 40% more than when he took office and can’t figure out why he had to declare a fiscal state of emergency just before Xmas.

  20. This is an impossible task. The federal standards will be tough enough for automakers to deliver without compromising on space, safety, power and (above all) low prices-all things that consumers value more than gas mileage. There is simply no technology now available that can combine everything that consumers want with the stipulated gas mileage. If there was, automakers wouldn’t need a mandate-they’d run, not walk, to put it on the market.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

  21. Does Dalmia realize, or even acknowledge, that the point of the regulations is to TELL people what they want, not make it fit in with what they want. The point of these is to place fuel mileage as the most important facet of a vehicle – not size, capability, or type.

    The thing is, most of the things people want COULD be accomplished, and at least make a good run at that fuel mileage figure. Engine efficiency has gone up substantially, and most of those gains have gone into more power. If automakers moved some of that back to economy, we’d see significant gains in fuel mileage. Heck, if Honda can make a N/A four cylinder engine that makes 177 horsepower (in the Accord), you can have plenty of power in a smaller economical engine.

  22. “Anybody seen the plan to deal with the battery toxic waste? Just curious.”

    The battery is made up of several seperate cells. The cells can be replaced one at a time (if they go bad) and the bad ones are recycled/rebuilt. Very little “waste.”

  23. The battery is made up of several seperate cells. The cells can be replaced one at a time (if they go bad) and the bad ones are recycled/rebuilt. Very little “waste.”

    So when dead hybrid batteries start showing up on empty lots here in Motown, I should be comforted that they are only “very little waste”. Like the auto batteries and tires that also have recycling systems in place, yet somehow still manage to litter urban and rural America.

    I’m not implying the recycling can’t be done. I’m not even suggesting that attempts to deal with the problem won’t be somewhat effective. I’m stating that it won’t be done to the extent that supporters of hybrids claim. Do any Pollyannas out there disagree?

  24. Have to disagree with the assertion that smog is a strictly local problem. High percentage of the smog in California these days actually blew over from China. Also, one of the major problems in cleaning up acid rain in the 70s and 80s was that the acid rain itself was actually falling several states to the east from the states it was generated in due to prevailing wind patterns.

  25. Fuel efficiency standards don’t promote hybrids so much as they promote smaller cars. 75% of fuel consumption relates directly to vehicle weight. So I don’t think huge numbers of people would be switching to hybrids and creating toxic battery waste; most would just buy little cars.

    Anecdotally, I get the impression that people who buy large cars are mainly motivated by safety; in a collision, it’s always bad to be in the smaller car. So a fuel efficiency standard (or a carbon tax, or any intervention that makes gas consumption more expensive) is really the only way to stop the “arms race.” Safety-minded consumers will only feel reassured that they can drive a compact car if they know there will be no SUV’s on the road to run them over.

  26. A smaller car is not worse than a larger car only in a collision with a larger car: It is worse than a larger car in a collision with anything.

    Injury in a car collision is due primarily to the magnitude of deceleration. A smaller car simply comes to a stop faster than a larger car, meaning the passengers hit the inside of it harder.

    Safety-minded consumers will only feel reassured that they can drive a compact car if they know there will be no SUV’s on the road to run them over.

    And their reassurance would be mistaken.

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